About the book:
Seventeen-year-old Samar — a.k.a. Sam — has never known much about her Indian heritage. Her mom has deliberately kept Sam away from her old-fashioned family. It’s never bothered Sam, who is busy with school, friends, and a really cute but demanding boyfriend.
But things change after 9/11. A guy in a turban shows up at Sam’s house, and he turns out to be her uncle. He wants to reconcile the family and teach Sam about her Sikh heritage. Sam isn’t sure what to do, until a girl at school calls her a coconut — brown on the outside, white on the inside. That decides it: Why shouldn’t Sam get to know her family? What is her mom so afraid of? Then some boys attack her uncle, shouting, “Go back home, Osama!” and Sam realizes she could be in danger — and also discovers how dangerous ignorance can be. Sam will need all her smarts and savvy to try to bridge two worlds and make them both her own.
I soak up the images, the tidbits and soundbytes, as we go through the [photo] albums.
This was during the trip to Niagara Falls, Look how skinny your cousin Pradeep is here! That was my favorite birthday shirt. I see Mom at six, wearing loud prints and checkered brown and orange pants, smiling broadly at the camera with her piano teeth; at ten, smiling pleasantly in a Raggedy-Ann dress.
Then at thirteen, the smile becomes just a small fraction of the crescent it used to be; her braids hang limp on the sides of her face, and her hands are folded in front of her on her lap.
But the photos of a teenage Mom are what hold me riveted. Mom and Uncle Sandeep both grow quiet. There are no smiles in these photos, and the spark in Mom’s eyes is gone. She stands, hunched, or staring off in the distance, almost as if she doesn’t notice the camera. The teenager in these photos is nothing like the Mom I’ve known my whole life. Nothing like the Mom in the photos we have at home—mom with her fist raised at a Take Back the Night march, or smiling with two fingers held up at a peace rally. Mom, with her eyes crackling in dissent. My mom.
I stare in disbelief at the photos, then look at my mother, and back again. No matter how hard I try, I can’t see that bleak teenager in the woman sitting next to me.
She points to the last photo in the album. “This was the day before I shaved my head,” she says quietly. She turns the page, and a small photo falls to the floor. I pick it up and turn it over. There, smiling blissfully back at me, is Mom standing next to a man I know must be my dad.
I gasp and hear Mom’s sharp intake of breath next to me. The photo is slightly discolored and a little dog-eared, but it’s whole and complete. Mom and Dad on the day of their marriage. Continue reading